There were no fanfares or speeches - not even a ribbon to cut - as the long-awaited Penwortham Bypass was opened to traffic yesterday.
Strangely, after 30 years of asking, the £17.5m road’s big day was as low key as it is possible to be, thanks to strict “purdah” restrictions governing councils in the build-up to the General Election.
At 10.30am a Lancashire County Council van led a procession of vehicles down the new John Horrocks Way to mark the historic moment.
The whole event, watched by barely two dozen people, was over in a matter minutes as traffic started to flow in both directions.
But what should have brought an immediate end to congestion in Penwortham did the opposite as drivers passing through the town blissfully unaware of the monumental changes suddenly found themselves trapped with nowhere to go.
Vehicles, some of them huge articulated lorries, were forced to do a U-turn on the main A59 after finding the road completely blocked off the moment the bypass opened.
There were also long queues at the Brown Hare roundabout with traffic cutting through residential roads to get onto the dual carriageway.
County Hall highways staff are hoping the confusion amounts to just “teething trouble” as motorists get to grips with the changes brought in to uncork one of Lancashire’s biggest bottlenecks.
But, despite plenty of warning signs on the approach to Penwortham from Preston, traffic was still thundering through the town by late afternoon.
One householder living on Liverpool Road told the Post: “I’m looking out of my front window and it looks as busy as ever.”
The stopping up of the A59, between the new bypass and Howick, will only last up to three weeks, possibly even two.
Road teams from the county council are now turning their attention to completing the junction in the absence of through traffic.
When it is re-opened it will merely be a slip road to take local traffic in and out of Penwortham town centre.
But if drivers might be eyeing up Liverpool Road as a rat run to beat the bypass, they will run into 20 mph speed limits and other traffic calming measures to persuade them against it.
They will also find the slip road at the bottom of Penwortham Hill leading up to the flyover closed to vehicles too, meaning they face a laborious detour around Lower Penwortham to join up with the Golden Way traffic to head into Preston or onto the Dock Estate.
Explaining the early problems, a spokesperson for LCC, said: “Following the opening of John Horrocks Way, we’ve temporarily closed a short section of Liverpool Road at the junction with the new bypass. This is to allow the final construction work to take place.
“We’ve put signs up around Penwortham to let people know about this road closure, including on the key approach roads, and advertised the changes through the media, social media and newsletters.
“We’d ask motorists to please be aware that the road layout has changed in this area, as this could affect their usual route.”
Drivers who queued to be the first to travel along the 1.3k road did so unaware they had been beaten to it - by two days.
Traffic on the A59 was temporarily diverted onto the new road for a time on Saturday morning while workmen carried out some adjustments to the junction.
One motorist said: “I was a bit shocked when a bloke in the road waved us along the new bypass. It was a nice surprise. The road is superb and hopefully it will make a huge difference to Penwortham.”
The “official” opening yesterday meant a change of route for thousands of rush hour drivers today. Instead of creeping nose-to-tail through the centre of Penwortham on their way to work, they were turned onto the bypass and eventually found themselves joining up with traffic on Golden Way at the Brown Hare roundabout.
The idea of a Penwortham Bypass was first suggested three decades ago, but only became possible thanks to the £434 City Deal which is funding a number of road improvement projects in Central Lancashire.
It is predicted that traffic through the town will drop by 70 per cent now the road is up and running. That could mean a reduction of around 22,000 vehicles a day, bringing end to congestion and an improvement in air quality for residents on or near Liverpool Road.
The opening came almost two years after the first sod was cut by LCC bosses.